M. Kelly McCarthy, M.D.
February is American Heart Health Month. Boys Town Pediatrics would like to remind you that it is never too early to think about the heart health of your child. As soon as the first tooth appears, parents should be thinking about their baby’s oral hygiene. As they get older, parents should teach their kids about how to maintain healthy teeth.
Good oral health is vital to your child’s overall health. Gum disease is identified as a risk factor for heart and lung disease, diabetes and a number of other conditions. Whether it’s to prevent disease or just to maintain a great smile, follow these helpful tips to keep your child’s teeth and gums in shape.
1. Use Fluoride (a “vitamin for your teeth”).
Fluoride is a chemical added to toothpaste and most public drinking water supplies (not present in bottled water). It strengthens tooth enamel and helps repair early damage to teeth. Make sure to use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush. Check with your pediatrician about fluoride content in your water supply and the need for fluoride drops and varnish.
2. Brush, brush, brush! (And floss, too.)
You may begin cleaning your child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears. For children less than 12 months of age, use a soft washcloth. Between 12 and 24 months, brush your child’s teeth twice daily, preferably after breakfast and before bed, using water. For children over 24 months, use an appropriately sized toothbrush and fluoridated toothpaste (pea-sized amount). You may begin flossing your child’s teeth as soon as two teeth are touching each other.
3. Maintain a healthy diet.
Offer your child a well-balanced diet with a variety of foods. Limit juice intake to once a day, and do not offer other sugary drinks. Pediatric dentists emphasize that they prefer your children to chew their fruit, not drink it.
4. Avoid putting your child to bed with bottles and sippy cups.
Never put your child to bed with a bottle, sippy cup or food, as this causes the teeth to be exposed to sugars for prolonged periods of time. Teaching your child to drink from a cup earlier is important because cups are less likely to cause the liquid to collect around the teeth. If your child likes to take a bottle or sippy cup to bed, fill it with water.
5. Schedule regular dental check-ups.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants receive an oral health assessment by 6 months of age. Infants at high risk of tooth decay should see a dentist by 12 months of age. All children should have a dental exam by a dentist in the early toddler years.
Through a simple dental examination, dentists can be the first to notice a situation that may require medical attention. The beginning stages of osteoporosis, certain cancers, eating disorders and other diseases may show their first signs through bad breath or unhealthy gums and teeth. Consult with your physician or dentist if you notice: